Yugoslavia’s Warning to America

That America is in trouble, and headed for more of it, is becoming received wisdom across the political aisle. For many on the Right, the Obama presidency heralds a new political age which they don’t like, just as many on the Left believed that the presidency of George W. Bush indicated that the end of the American experiment was nigh.

While the right-wing media regularly includes warnings that Obama has ushered in politico-economic trends that bode ill for America’s future, their counterparts on the Left are beginning to admit their doubts about our whole enterprise. Today, over at Vox, Matt Yglesias confesses that American democracy may well be doomed after all.

Yglesias is hardly a fringe character, rather an embodiment of Millennial liberalism. Once a mover and shaker over at the influential (and notorious to conservatives) JournoList, Yglesias has undeniable cachet among Beltway influencers, so when he says the country is pretty much cooked, it matters.

As usual over at Vox, his argument has a lot of flashcard-friendly facts and figures to back it up, and his conclusion — that political paralysis rooted in deep partisanship is only getting worse and threatens America’s constitutional democracy — is difficult to refute entirely. That said, Yglesias’ prognostications about America’s future course, including that the United States may turn into a gigantic, nuclear-armed Honduras, seem far-fetched, notwithstanding the apparent desire of Vox writers and readers to invite all of Central America to live in this country.

Yglesias gives short shrift to notions of a military coup or even a second American Civil War, and I don’t think he’s correct here. While it is difficult for anybody who knows the Pentagon well to imagine American generals and admirals getting together to overthrow the civilian government — that would require obscene amounts of PowerPoint and might endanger top brass golden parachutes with Beltway Bandits — the notion of a Civil War 2.0, however terrifying it may be, needs to be faced squarely, if we wish to avoid that awful fate.

America in the 21st century runs little risk of becoming Honduras Grande, but if current politico-economic trends continue much longer, we might well wind up a lot like Yugoslavia. That statement is sure to be controversial, since few Americans, citizens of the global hegemon and to many of them a most exceptional country, like to be compared with a relatively small Balkan federation that collapsed into wars and genocide a generation ago.

Yet the collapse of Yugoslavia offers several cautionary tales to Americans today, and if they are wise they will heed them and set the United States on a correction course before it is too late. As one who witnessed the dreadful collapse of Yugoslavia and its terrible aftermaths — including the seemingly permanent impoverishment of Southeastern Europe, mired in crime, corruption, and extremism — I would very much like America to discover a far happier fate.

However, some of the parallels are eerie and troubling. The differences must be explained up-front. Yugoslavia at its collapse had less than one-tenth of America’s population now, and its system of government was a socialist dictatorship, albeit one of a relatively enlightened kind. Notwithstanding a very nasty secret police force, Yugoslavia as nurtured under the charismatic Tito was a good deal more pleasant place to live than anywhere in the Soviet Bloc. Yugoslavs were free to travel abroad and, after the early 1950s, the repressive state apparatus didn’t have to throw many dissidents in prison, as public shaming, including threats of unemployment and loss of housing, cowed most would-be complainers into towing the party line, at least in public.

The root of Yugoslavia’s collapse was economic, particularly its parlous state finances. During the Cold War, Tito, who broke with Stalin in 1948 and thereby shattered Communist unity in Eastern Europe, was able to get big Western loans, since NATO viewed Yugoslavia as a necessary anti-Soviet bulwark in Europe, and with these billions of dollars, at low interest rates, the country developed a wide array of industries under its unique market socialist model.

Unfortunately, the oil shocks of 1973 ultimately undid this Balkan ponzi scheme, and as the cost of borrowing foreign money became prohibitive, Yugoslavia’s economy began to creak. At root, the country’s current operations, including funding the bloated state sector, depended on borrowed foreign money that Yugoslavia could no longer afford.

After Tito’s death in 1980, amid Western fears that Yugoslavia might implode to Moscow’s benefit, NATO signaled to Belgrade that, if they got their fiscal house in order, the money might keep flowing. In response, the Communist Party ordered Sergej Krajgher, a party stalwart from Slovenia, to see what had to be done to repair the country’s mounting socio-economic mess.

After two years of study, Krajgher’s commission in 1983 released its report, which correctly assessed that Yugoslavia needed to get its economic house in order to avoid financial, and then political, collapse. Specifically, Krajgher recommended the sell-off of unprofitable state enterprises, allowing more market forces to work, and above all comprehensive fiscal reform to get Yugoslavia off the drug of foreign loans. This was all excellent advice.

Its effect, however, was zero. The report was ignored, and Communist officials never made any effort to seriously implement any of Krajgher’s solid recommendations. It was too politically painful to make cuts, so the government pretended there was no problem. Until it was too late.

Comparisons to Obama are unavoidable. Early in his first term, he empowered a bi-partisan board, known colloquially as the Simpson-Bowles commission, to investigate improving the long-term condition of America’s state finances. The commission’s findings were thorough and persuasive, and they offered a way out of the country’s fiscal morass. At a minimum, Simpson-Bowles set the terms for a necessary debate. But Obama inexplicably pretended that his own commission ever existed. No debate ensued, since discussing cuts of government benefits to voters is electorally toxic — Republicans are no more eager to talk about this pain than Democrats — and nothing happened.

America, possessing the global reserve currency, has a margin for fiscal error enjoyed by no other country, but at some point the game of borrowing vast amounts of foreign money to fund our government will end, and end badly. The U.S. national debt now exceeds $18 trillion, which given the fact that only a little more than 120 million Americans actually pay federal taxes, amounts to almost $150,000 of debt per taxpayer. To say nothing of ballooning state and local government indebtedness. Rhode Island, where I lived for many years, witnessing its love of other people’s money to pay for an unsustainable welfare state, is so deeply in debt that it’s as bad off as Greece, as even the mainstream media admits.

There is no reason to think this will end pleasantly, given the track record of every other country that has gotten itself deeply into long-term debt and dependency on borrowed foreign money to pay for current liabilities. Once doubts of any sort emerge about the U.S. dollar’s status as the global reserve currency, the rot will emerge rapidly and America’s fiscal nightmare will be here, with a vengeance. That reckoning can be delayed for years, even decades, but when it comes, as it eventually will, it will come suddenly, at which point there will be no palatable remedy.

Possessing only the weak dinar, Yugoslavia had no such margin for error or avoidance, and the party’s punting on economic reform meant that the fiscal collapse would come sooner than later. By the late 1980s, interest rates and unemployment were both sky-high and Belgrade was running out of hard (i.e. real) money. Repeated devaluations of the dinar did little good, and even a belated IMF effort in 1988 to float Yugoslavia a bit longer, in exchange for promises of real market reforms, could not stave off disaster. It was too late. Political dysfunction had become fatal, making economic reform impossible.

Worse, economic problems, including unemployment and inflation that impoverished Yugoslavs rapidly — by the time the country went over the cliff in 1991, real incomes were half what they had been a generation before — exacerbated the country’s serious ethnic grievances. When combined with economic emergency, Yugoslavia’s ethnic politics proved a lethal combination that led directly to wars and genocide.

Yugoslavia was a very diverse country, ethnically and religiously, and the divisions between groups were real and serious. Unlike 21st century Americans, Yugoslavs were under no illusions that “diversity is our greatest strength” — they knew the opposite was the truth — and the Communists went to great lengths to keep ethnic peace by banning what we would term “hate speech” while mandating that the official doctrine that Yugoslavia’s diverse peoples really loved each other deeply be placed at the level of quasi-religious dogma.

Rewriting history, to show certain ethnic groups as victims and others as perpetrators of race-based crimes, took its toll, since Yugoslavs knew this was too simple, and was being used as a political weapon by the authorities. Aggressive “affirmative action” in education and employment — Belgrade termed it the “ethnic key” — was another perennial sore-spot for many citizens, since ethnic status and ties often mattered more than competence. Needless to add, this hardly helped the economy either.

Perhaps worst of all, by preventing any honest discussion of ethnic matters, the Communists had a perverse knack of making each of Yugoslavia’s many ethnic groups feel that it was uniquely aggrieved. Thus any Serb or Croat or Albanian or Bosnian Muslim, could look at similar events and quietly determine that his group was really the persecuted one in the Communist-mandated racial games that were enforced by the authorities.

When the Communist monopoly on power began to wane in the mid-1980s, as across Eastern Europe, and the Yugoslav media began taking on taboo topics, nothing was more discussed than ethnic politics and their messy history. It quickly became a firestorm. To cite the most damaging example, around 1985 the Serbian media began reporting violent crimes committed against Serbs by Albanians in Kosovo, which was a majority-Albanian province that enjoyed self-government under Tito’s system.

While Albanians did commit crimes against Serbs, the opposite was also true, yet the Belgrade media focused on the former while ignoring the latter. Accounts of rapes of Serbian women — some real, many imagined  — served to whip up nationalist fervor. The press, with Serbia’s Communist Party increasingly behind them, since they realized that nationalism was a powerful motivator for potential voters, indulged in regular accounts of lurid Albanian crimes against Serbs.

A classic case was that of Djordje Martinović, a Serb in Kosovo who in 1986 claimed he had been brutalized by Albanian thugs, including being anally raped with a bottle, in a horrible hate crime. The Serbian media went wild with the story, which inflamed rising nationalist passions. Albanian protests that the media was wrong made no headway with Serbs, who preferred what I have elsewhere termed The Narrative over facts. The subsequent revelation that Martinović had faked his attack, having injured himself in an act of self-pleasuring gone seriously wrong, got a lot less media attention than the initial story.

By then the damage was done, as anybody familiar with Yugoslavia’s tragic demise knows. A colorless Communist functionary on the make, Slobodan Milošević, realized that nationalism was the ticket to political success as Communism waned. He made the fate of Serbs in Kosovo, real and imagined, his major plank, and he exploited this toxic environment created by the media to whip up a frenzy that he could exploit, and he did.

By 1989, Milošević was the master of Serbia, and he promptly cancelled Kosovo’s autonomy, reducing the Albanians there to second-class status under the Serbs. This was payback for all the crimes perpetrated by Albanians against innocent Serbs. Of course, radicalization inevitably begets counter-radicalization, and before long Croats, Albanians, and all the non-Serbian groups in Yugoslavia were digging up their own nationalist grievances and skewed history to counter the Serbs. War and genocide were soon to follow, in a tragedy that was especially poignant because it was eminently avoidable.

Playing political games with race and ethnicity in any multinational society is a dangerous thing. Obama, by promising that he wanted to be president of all Americans, then governing as a highly partisan Democrat, has laid the groundwork for a hazardous future for the United States, hardly helped by his public indulging of black nationalism, particularly his incautious discussion of crimes both real and imagined against African Americans. However verboten discussion of white nationalism is at present among polite Americans, it is unavoidable that this will become an issue in the future, with potentially explosive consequences — to say nothing of the rise of Hispanic and Asian nationalisms too, as the United States becomes even more diverse than Yugoslavia was.

Managing this increasingly fissiparous country as economic prospects diminish will challenge the most gifted politicians. Indulging in ethnic resentments as a substitute for solutions to vexing politico-economic problems only makes things go from bad to worse, sometimes rapidly and painfully. With both our parties increasingly beholden to Wall Street at the expense of Main Street, average Americans of all backgrounds will not be happy that they are bequeathing a life of less affluence and opportunity to their children. In such a time of troubles, playing ethno-racial political games as a substitute for reform is deeply irresponsible.

It would be nice if Democrats and Republicans played better together, particularly on the budget and borrowing money. It would be especially nice if they seriously addressed issues of rising economic inequality and diminishing opportunities for average Americans.  But it is imperative that they not fan the flames of ethnic and racial resentments if they wish to avoid a terrible outcome for our country.

The fate of Yugoslavia was anything but preordained. The United States, whatever its problems, is a far richer and better-run state than anything created by Tito. But the same threats lurk, particularly those of economic degradation caused by debt and made impossible to fix thanks to toxic racial politics. America need not become a vast Balkan horror show — I think it’s more likely in coming decades to become a huge nuclear-armed Brazil, with entrenched economic inequality, often among racial lines, that I find noxious and unworthy of our country — but the fate of Yugoslavia must be avoided at all costs. Our next Civil War would be much more vicious and protracted than the last one, have no illusions.

Why the West is Losing

That the West is quaking down to its foundations at present seems broadly understood by many Westerners, based on numerous opinion polls. The population of the West, despite its vast wealth, is mired in self-doubt and worries about its future. Recent events in Ukraine and the Middle East are part of this concern. Resurgent Russia, led by the boastfully confident Vladimir Putin, is openly mocking ceasefires in Ukraine, which he agreed to with major NATO members, while the ink remains less than fully dry. Meanwhile, the Islamic State continues its murderous march across Iraq and Syria, undeterred by intermittent U.S.-led airstrikes, butchering and decapitating for the cameras now on the Mediterranean shore. Rome is preparing for war on Libya, a troubled state pushed past the point of coherence by botched NATO intervention in 2011, so grave does the threat appear to Italian eyes.

In contrast, President Obama sees little threat at all, or at least nothing that can be termed “Islamic.” Recent comments from the White House do not inspire confidence that Obama and his national security staff have taken the full measure of the threat emanating from the advancing Islamic State, ISIS for short. The mainstream media has come around to an understanding that ISIS, as its name implies, is grounded in a vehement ideology wrapped up in a literalist and extreme version of Sunni Islam. They are unquestionably violent extremists, as the White House has noted, but of a particular kind which is identifiably Islamic. That the Islamic State has nothing to do with “real” Islam is a epiphany that only overeducated Westerners can witness. This is more evidence that, to paraphrase Orwell, some ideas are so silly that you have to be an intellectual to believe them.

ISIS is so absurdly, sick-cartoonishly violent that they surpass the ability of post-modern Westerners, what I have referred to as the WEIRD contingent, to comprehend what’s going on. Having never been taught about the West’s long, often unpleasant history with Islam, except to emphasize Western misdeeds, grasping that ISIS is tapping into a virulent and violent strain of Islam that has deep historical roots is impossible. WEIRDos, led by Obama, know all about the Crusades, or at least think they do, but have never pondered Tours 732, Kosovo 1389, Constantinople 1453, much less Vienna 1527 and 1683. Does even one American in a thousand know how the “shores of Tripoli” wound up in the Marines’ Hymn?

Moreover, the testosterone-laden appeal of the bloody and hateful ISIS message to a disturbing number of young men (and women), including thousands of Westerners accustomed to comfort, is incomprehensible to WEIRDos. White House messaging that employment opportunities will fix this problem is not only untrue, it’s the opposite of the truth. Teenaged fanatics, many of them far from pious in their faith, are seeking to join ISIS precisely to reject the softness and decadence of the Western post-modern way of life, which they despise and quite literally wish to kill. To date, this warrior’s call to adventure appeals mainly to losers, criminals, and the psychologically unbalanced, but it may not remain confined to such déclassé elements.

Yet ISIS represents a second-tier threat to the West at present. If Obama should find the backbone to issue orders, U.S. airpower and special operations forces can decapitate the Islamic State in its heartland in a few months. While ISIS-inspired jihadists will create mayhem in Europe, and eventually America too, these will mostly be low-level attacks of the sort recently witnessed in Paris and Copenhagen: evil but limited. In the West to date, ISIS-inspired jihadists, many of them merely wannabes, are incapable of pulling off “big weddings” that will kill hundreds of innocents. Periodic incidents of homegrown terrorism may become simply “how we live now” in the West, something that will change lives and lifestyles but will not overturn civilization. There is no security solution to this challenge and a political fix seems impossible, since real issues cannot be discussed honestly, so increasing violent extremism in our midst looks like the West’s new normal.

Russia, however, is a different matter. The world’s biggest country, possessing thousands of nuclear weapons, and led by a man seething with hatred and resentment against the West, represents a potentially existential threat to the Western way of life — and countless lives. While Vladimir Putin does not seek a nuclear war, he is willing to gamble with hard power, with all its attendant risks, in a fashion no Western leader has countenanced in decades. In recent months, Putin’s embrace of duplicitous diplomacy backed by Special War and periodic outbursts of conventional combat, most recently at Debaltseve, another stinging — because needless — defeat for Ukraine, have delivered victory after victory for the Kremlin.

Strategically speaking, none of this should be happening. Notwithstanding that Ukraine’s deeply flawed leadership, which has refrained from real mobilization much less reality-based war planning, has been a highly cooperative adversary for the Kremlin, Putin has been winning round after round of poker with Kyiv and NATO despite holding mediocre cards. Putin’s Russia, hobbled by sanctions and the collapse in oil prices, is no Soviet Union: in economic terms, it’s dwarfed by the European Union, while militarily, anything resembling a European war would be a disaster for Russia. Americans are advised to think of Putin’s Russia (143 million citizens with a per capita GDP of USD 14K) as basically Mexico (114 million citizens with a per capita GDP of USD 11K) with thousands of nukes and fiercely anti-Western leadership.

Yet Putin’s streak of wins cannot be construed as anything but impressive, particularly considering how weak his cards really are. With his recent Minsk escapade, where he got terrified German and French leaders to sign off on a “ceasefire” in eastern Ukraine which Russian-backed fighters never honored at all, instead opting to push harder — with weapons, ammunition, intelligence, and skilled commanders coming from Russia, mind you — Putin demonstrated his contempt for the West, as well as how he plans to establish Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe, breaking NATO in the process, preferably without major war.

How important Putin’s grand strategic goal is to the Kremlin should not be underestimated. He aims to achieve what the mighty Soviet Union never could, winning Moscow’s control over Eastern Europe — and thereby pushing America out of Europe, at least de facto — without major war and extended occupation. Whether he can actually pull this off remains to be seen, but it’s not difficult to see why, surveying the last twelve months, Putin is brimming with self-confidence, while viewing the West with sneering contempt.

The risk to world peace at present, since Putin’s continuing to gamble with high stakes is now a given, is that Russia will eventually cross a NATO “redline.” It’s impossible to know if the Atlantic Alliance would really go to war over an aggressive Kremlin provocation against a Baltic republic, which is clearly an attractive option for Moscow now. If the West has a redline in Eastern Europe, where exactly it is seems to be unknown to Western leaders, except in a highly formal (and therefore meaningless) sense. Given Obama’s shaky track record with redlines, we should expect the Russians to keep pushing, and in so doing, they may go too far, causing the Third World War.

Or perhaps not. Given the dismal conduct of Western diplomacy over Ukraine, with bouts of weakness amidst bursts of sheer panic, it’s worth pondering if there is anything Europeans in 2015 will fight for, even their own homelands. Over the last generation, Europeans have become accustomed to their comfortable, post-modern lifestyle, with ample state support, where war is impossible, so defense budgets can be cut down to nearly nothing. This is indeed a lovely life — which is why I spend as many months of the year in my rustico, high in the Alps, as possible — yet it cannot last much longer without major changes. Demographics alone will undermine the post-modern European project, as too few children are being born to sustain such generous welfare states and their attendant dolce vita.

Even before demographic demise, the Russians are coming. The Kremlin, which is winning every diplomatic fight and battle in Ukraine, sees no reason to stop now. As Western sanctions inflict pain, doubling-down by Moscow seems a rational choice, as was evident months ago. Putin represents a drastically different vision of Europe’s future than what passes for received wisdom among Europe’s elites. Mired in old-think, including a downright nineteenth century take on force, war, and diplomacy, Putin represents an atavism, a crude, outmoded version of ourselves — the angry white male of liberal nightmares — that Western progressives believed had been killed off by the gender and social revolutions of the 1960’s.

Putin, a staunch traditionalist in matters of belief and social order, oozes contempt for the post-modern West, viewing it as feeble, feminine, and dying. He rejects the European post-Cold War consensus in toto, and seeks to remake the continent along Russian lines. He has promised Russians glory and order, not comfort and decadence. While he cannot succeed in the long run, for reasons I’ve already elaborated, he can create enormous damage along the way, as well as creating conditions which will mandate a return to traditional values in any countries that wish to survive in a Russian-dominated Europe.

Analogies to Adolf Hitler are hazardous, but some appear obvious in the case of Vladimir Putin. In the first place, Hitler was shaped profoundly by the collapse of Imperial Germany in 1918, just as Putin was by the demise of the USSR in 1991. Both men viewed the state they served ambivalently — Hitler wasn’t much of a monarchist and Putin wasn’t a diehard Marxist either — but defeat was a life-changing ordeal that created new political and social realities which, in time, Hitler and Putin exploited masterfully.

From 1918, Hitler took the lesson that Germany needed moral rearmament more than anything else since, in Nazi telling, collapse at the end of the Great War was caused by moral shortcomings more than military defeats. Thus Hitler’s famous line that, though he was a socialist, he had no need to nationalize German factories because “I shall nationalize the people.” Similarly, Putin considers that the sudden implosion of the USSR was not due to economic or military weakness, rather to loss of faith in the Soviet system. Such a withering away of national morale, and therefore of the state itself, is something Putin will not have happen on his watch. Hence the emphasis on nationalism, unity, propaganda, and religious imagery to bind citizens to the state — which makes a better motivator of average Russians than Marxism-Leninism ever was — as in venerable Muscovite tradition.

Also like Hitler did in the mid-1930’s, Putin in a few months has managed to overturn European diplomacy, through clever and cautious use of force, remaking it in his own, tough image (though Berlin, Paris, and Washington, DC, haven’t quite realized this yet). By re-writing the rule-book of international relations, recasting it in terms of force and will, Hitler and Putin alike created a new diplomatic reality, despite their own weakness, that bears little resemblance to the happy never-never-land of conferences, summits, heated debates over beef subsidies, and cocktail parties that polite Europeans thought constituted statecraft. That naive vision has been steamrolled by the Kremlin over the past year, as surely as Ukrainian volunteers have been crushed under Russian tank treads.

At a certain level, what Putin represents to Western post-moderns is so terrifying that they simply deny reality, individually and collectively. Of course, continuing to deny what Putin is, and what his Russia wants, and is willing to kill and die for, will only encourage more Kremlin aggression and game-playing with nuclear weapons, so a strong dose of reality would be welcome in NATO capitals, and soon, if we wish to deter Putin while he still can be deterred.

However, I am decreasingly optimistic that Western leaders will rise to the occasion in time. I have been sharply critical of Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s candy entrepreneur turned war president, for his diffident leadership as Putin devours his country, one bite at a time. In good post-modern European fashion, Poroshenko has emphasized hashtags, peace vigils, and tough talk (not action), rather than national mobilization and coherent strategy-making, which is why Ukraine is losing badly. Yet NATO deserves sharper criticism still, since their military and economic power dwarfs Ukraine’s, while Western leaders seem every bit as mired in fantasy thinking and hope-as-strategy when it comes to Putin as anybody in Kyiv.

The essential incomprehensibility of Putin’s Russia, which after 1991 was supposed to have become “like us” in matters economic, political, social and sexual, albeit at a languid Russian pace, looms large in the minds of Westerners today, who utter nervous laughter about Putin and his shirtless photo-ops with dangerous animals, rather than pondering what this says about Russia. Some are slowly noticing that twenty-first century Russia has embraced values which are not merely unlike ours, they are the actually the opposite of them.

The WEIRD take on Putin has been perfectly captured by a piece in The New York Times Magazine, authored by just the self-absorbed, nebbishy sort who both writes and reads the Grey Lady. The author, a Russian Jew who came to America as a child, covers his subject with roughly the same dispassion as a Palestinian would write about Israelis. To learn what makes Putin’s Russia tick, the author submitted himself to a week of non-stop Russian TV, while holed up in a swanky Manhattan hotel, fed with room service finery to counteract all the Kremlin agitprop.

Lots Seinfeld-y inside jokes about calling therapists ensue, amidst constant jibes about how latently homosexual Putin and his testosterone-driven Russia really are. What comes through clearly, however, is that popular culture under Putin has created a mindset that is nationalist and firmly anti-Western in virtually every way; at times, it drips with hatred towards the West, seeing nefarious plots against Russia everywhere. That Russians are a bunch of uncouth idiots is made obvious. But the crux of the matter, as revealed in the piece’s title, “Out of My Mouth Comes Unimpeachable Manly Truth,” is that Russia has simply opted out of the post-modern Western way of life, emphasizing outmoded values such as masculinity, faith, plus traditional sex and gender roles, in a thoroughly atavistic manner.

Anybody who has met actual Russians knows how little they, even the cultured ones, have been touched by post-modern Western mores on race, gender, and sexuality. They remain comfortable with the tough, ugly, dog-eat-dog world we have. I have tried on multiple occasions to explain “trigger warnings” to educated Russians, but they never believe me and burst out laughing. What causes this — Communism? Byzantinism? Tsarism? something in Russian water and/or DNA? — is debatable but that Russians simply live in a different mental universe than twenty-first century Westerners do is not.

Besides, Russia’s return to atavism is more disturbing to Westerners than any ISIS madness. At a deep, if unstated level, Muslims acting like barbarians has been part of our script for so long that it fails to stir our fears except when it comes close, as in Paris recently. The only thing that’s shocking is how the madmen are capturing it all on YouTube now. But Russians are Europeans of a sort, they look rather like us, but they certainly don’t think and act like us, and this is disconcerting to Europeans, and many Americans, at a level that cannot be easily expressed. The white caveman of progressive nightmares is back, and his name is Vladimir Putin.

A big part of why the West cannot seem to grapple meaningfully with the Russian threat, despite the fact that in any strategic sense NATO is holding most of the cards in this high-stakes game, is because he challenges not just what we have, but who we are. Putin and Putinism represent a direct challenge to the post-modern way of life that has become normative, especially among educated Westerners since the 1960’s. A worldview that prefers soft, feminine values to tougher masculine ones, that finds patriotism risible, that believes there is nothing worth dying for, has little to say when the monsters we firmly believed were safely behind the fortress walls, lurking hungrily, turn out to be on our doorstep, and the front door is unlocked.

Europeans who wish to resist Putinism will need to become a bit like the Russians, reemphasizing the utility of force in international affairs, and that reassessment brings social and gender implications that post-moderns will find uncomfortable. It should not be excluded that some Europeans actively prefer Moscow’s vision of the future, even if they don’t like Russians, to what Brussels can offer now. Greece may only be the beginning of a disturbing trend. Small, if ardent, numbers of Europeans will be enticed by the mad jihad offered by ISIS, but far larger numbers of disaffected Westerners may find Putin’s worldview enticing, particularly as he moves from victory to victory.

The moral outweighs the physical in war, as sages have counseled for millennia, and today Putin is drinking the elixir of easy triumphs over his feeble foes. This aura is intoxicating to many even outside Russia. If the West wishes to deter Putin before he unleashes continental war, by accident or by design, it needs to examine what it has become and how it can realistically defend its way of life. Only then will it be sensible to discuss strategies to deter and, if necessary, defeat this resurgent Russia.

Is This the End of NATO?

The last few days have brought depressing developments for those who care about European freedom. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande went to Moscow to present a Ukraine “peace plan” that actually had been suggested to them by Vladimir Putin. Unsurprisingly, this went nowhere and Merkel has already pronounced that there is no military solution to the Russo-Ukrainian War, a message that was amplified by the Munich Security Conference, Bavaria’s best-catered talkshop, where the lack of Western resolve to confront Russian aggression was made abundantly clear. In Munich, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a rare European NATO leader who has a clear picture of events, told Merkel that the choice was “surrender or arm Ukraine” — to no effect.

To be fair to Europe, Washington, DC, has hardly been telegraphing resolve either. My proposal to send Ukraine defensive weaponry, which looked like it might be in the offing, by this weekend looked dead, though this White House sends so many mixed messages one can never be exactly sure. Late this week, the Obama administration unveiled its new National Security Strategy, amid less than fanfare, with the execrable Susan Rice explaining in “remain calm, all is well!” fashion that things are really much better globally than they look. This White House’s new foreign policy mantra is Strategic Patience, which seems to be the been-to-grad-school version of “don’t do stupid shit.”  Since nobody inside the Beltway is taking this eleventh-hour effort to articulate Obama’s security strategy seriously, it’s doubtful anyone abroad, much less in Moscow, will either.

It’s therefore unsurprising that European leaders are in full-panic mode about what Putin will do next. The serious possibility that the Chekist-in-Charge in the Kremlin will seek more provocations, and possibly a major war, to achieve his strategic aim of establishing Russian control over the former Soviet space and therefore dominance over Eastern Europe, is reducing weak-willed Western leaders like Merkel and Hollande to political incoherence.

It seems to have never occurred to them, nor Obama and his national security staff either, that crushing the Russian economy with sanctions might bring more, not less, aggression from Putin, even though that was an obvious possibility. Jaws dropped this week when Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who until recently was NATO’s civilian head, stated that it is highly likely that Russia will soon stage a violent provocation against a Baltic state, which being NATO countries, will cause a crisis over the Alliance’s Article 5 provision for collective self-defense. Rasmussen merely said what all defense experts who understand Putin already know, but this was not the sort of reality-based assessment that Western politicians are used to hearing.

There are two core reasons for Western collapse of will before Putin’s decidedly modest aggression in Ukraine. The first is that Western and Central Europe have so substantially disarmed since the end of the Cold War. Hardly any European NATO countries spend the “required” two percent of GDP on defense, and no amount of American scolding about it seems to make any difference. As a result, European NATO militaries, with few exceptions, possess a mere shadow of the combat power they had two decades ago. Several of them have abandoned tanks altogether, while even Germany has so cut back its combat power that there are only four battalions each of armor and artillery in the whole Bundeswehr.

Not all the fault for this sorry state of affairs lies in Europe. Here America has played an insidious role too, encouraging spending on niche missions for the Alliance at the expense of traditional defense. Hence the fact that Baltic navies have considerable counter-mine capabilities — this being an unsexy mission that the U.S. Navy hates to do — yet hardly any ability to police their maritime borders against intruding Russians. To make matters worse, since 2001 the Americans have encouraged NATO partners to spend considerable amounts of their limited defense budgets on America’s losing war in Afghanistan.

But the moral collapse of Europe is even worse than the military collapse. All the armaments in the world do no good when the will to use them is absent. Since the Cold War’s end, Western Europeans have convinced themselves of many things that simply are not true. Their optimistic worldview, which really is the highest form of the WEIRD Weltanschauung, abandoned any notion that monsters might still exist, and many Europeans, including most of their leaders, seem unable to accept the new reality that Vladimir Putin has forced upon them. Yet denying that Russia aims to change the European order, and will use force to do so, will not stop Kremlin misdeeds, actually it will only encourage more Russian aggression.

To be blunt, I see little evidence to date that major European leaders are willing to wake up to this new reality. In the event of Russian provocation against NATO, which is highly likely soon, it’s very possible that the Atlantic Alliance will unravel completely. Putin may achieve his strategic victory with hardly a shot fired. In such an event, I have no idea how Obama, or any American president, could send U.S. troops to die to defend a Europe that is so flagrantly unwilling to defend itself.

Two-and-a-half millennia ago, the Chinese sage Sun Tzu counseled that “the best military policy is to attack strategies; the next to attack alliances; the next to attack soldiers,” and Putin is doing exactly this. He has no need to undermine NATO strategy, since none exists in reality, while he continues to hack away at the foundations of the Western Alliance through Special War, particularly espionage and subversion.

It’s significant that, just after Greece elected an openly pro-Russian government, whose defense and foreign ministers are major Putin fans, the rising left wing in Spain announces that, should it come to power, it will take Madrid out of NATO altogetherCyprus’s announcement on Friday that it will offer its military bases to Russia should be seen in proper strategic context. If this chipping away at the foundations of European security by the Kremlin continues, there may be no big war for Russia to have to win.

Which is good news for Putin, since what makes craven European conduct towards Moscow so appalling is the fact that Russia is winning from a position of profound political, economic, and especially military weakness. In military terms, despite the shortcomings of European NATO, Russia lacks the ability to win any major war against the West. Moscow frankly would have a tough time subduing Ukraine quickly, much less marching westward with haste.

Outside the nuclear realm, where the Kremlin likes to rattle radioactive sabers, terrifying Europeans, Russian military strength is not especially impressive. Moscow is in the middle of a big military modernization program that will not be complete until the early 2020’s, and at the moment its ground, air, and naval forces can be assessed as far from ready to win any major war in Europe.

A look at Russia’s ground forces is revealing. Far-reaching reforms of the whole bloated army, which spent nearly two decades languishing in semi-Soviet mode — from organization to training to manning, everything — that commenced in 2007-09 are bearing fruit, but significant challenges remain. On paper, the active Russian army looks impressive, with slightly over forty maneuver brigades, many with modern weapons. But many of those brigades consist of conscripts who are not trained to NATO standards, and this army must face not just Ukraine and the West, but guard the vast border with China, while keeping a lid on the Caucasus and providing post-imperial order in parts of Central Asia.

In other words, Putin cannot engage in a major war without a substantial recall of reservists to flesh out the order of battle, and that may not be popular. The Russian population has endured the economic downturn, blaming the West rather than Putin for the collapse of their currency and much of the economy, and the Kremlin’s anti-Western stance is supported by most Russians. Yet this has something to do with the fact that Putin has kept truly painful costs low so far. Soldiers killed in Russia’s not-very-secret war in Ukraine are professionals. If bigger numbers of teenaged conscripts and thirty-something reservists start dying, Putin may find his war of choice is suddenly less popular.

For all the Alliance’s military shortcomings, NATO can deter Putin’s aggression until 2020 at least, with current forces. However, deterring the Kremlin’s Special War, which I have long counseled the West to get serious about, may prove a more serious challenge. The West has the ability to keep a rampaging Russia restrained. Sending defensive weaponry to Ukraine would be a wise start, while so is bolstering NATO forces on the Alliance’s vulnerable frontier, well beyond the modest efforts now, finally, being undertaken. What no defense budget or military strategist can provide, however, is political will. If Europe cannot regain enough self-confidence to resist Putin, it will lose everything, sooner than you think.

No, Putin Does Not Have Autism

The media is aflutter this week with the “revelation” from a classified Department of Defense assessment that Vladimir Putin has autism. The troublesome man in the Kremlin is a problem not because he’s a nasty Chekist, besotted with Russian nationalism and KGB conspiracy thinking, he’s just ‘spergy — think an unfunny Rain Man with several thousand nuclear missiles.  Per a 2008 DoD study:

Putin’s “neurological development was significantly interrupted in infancy,” wrote Brenda Connors, an expert in movement pattern analysis at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Studies of his movement, Connors wrote, reveal “that the Russian President carries a neurological abnormality.”

This has been met by snickers among the media, while the Kremlin sees nothing funny here at all. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, angrily denounced the “conclusion” that Russia’s president has Asperger’s as “stupidity not worthy of comment.” This is a rarity for me, but allow me to state that the Kremlin has this exactly right.

POLITICO has obtained two relevant studies by Brenda Connors through the Freedom of Information Act and let’s just say it’s not impressed. As it asks readers:

Do you like watching Internet videos and then drawing broad, sweeping, pseudoscientific conclusions about the people involved? If so, congratulations, you might be qualified to join the Pentagon’s secret team investigating the nonverbal cues of powerful world leaders.

What’s going on here is a tad complex but it’s worth a bit of unpacking since it demonstrates how DoD wastes vast sums of taxpayer money on complete bullshit. I happen to know a bit about this case, since I was at the Naval War College from 2005 to 2014, and got to see some of Ms. Connors’ special genius at work, and let me state that what’s still behind the classification wall is more risible than even this.

Allow me to also state that I don’t actually know if Putin has autism — and neither does Connors. Her credentials for making such an assessment are literally nonexistent. She has a BA and MA in political science and a background in — wait for it — interpretive dance. She was a protocol officer at the State Department and somehow wangled her way into lucrative research (i.e. non-teaching) faculty positions at the Naval War College; all this was a subject of some mystery to NWC faculty, but given that institution’s tendency to give out jobs to unqualified “special friends,” the Connors case isn’t really that much of an outlier. Connors has been at NWC for over a decade…doing whatever it is she does.

She bills herself as an expert in “movement analysis,” which means she watches a lot of video and YouTube clips and generates classified assessments of the subject’s mental state. How she comes to these conclusions is mysterious, to be charitable. Her Putin “assessment” was the topic of head-scratching by NWC faculty who, unlike Connors, knew something about Russia, the Kremlin, and the KGB. Her sole claim to understanding Putin is “movement analysis,” which is a discipline nobody else on the faculty had heard of.

Neither was the need for such classified assessments clear, since for decades CIA has done exactly that, writing up detailed medical and psychological studies of world leaders, so that U.S. decision-makers might gain insights of value. I’ve read quite a few of those assessments and, since they are done with the input of bona fide MDs and PhDs, unlike Connors, they can be genuinely insightful.

You see, Connors somehow got the eye of the Pentagon’s spooky Office of Net Assessment, which dispenses bags of cash in a non-transparent fashion to all sorts of oddballs. How much ONA has given to Connors for what she terms her “Body Leads” project is unclear but POLITICO learned that since 2009, experts working with Connors have received at least $365,000. Rumor has it the true figure is much higher, but I’ll leave that to intrepid reporters to uncover.

None of this is exactly surprising to anybody acquainted with ONA, which has been run since 1973 by Andy Marshall, known as “Yoda” to his legions of intellectual fans. Appointed by President Nixon in an effort to get around CIA assessments that Kissinger especially didn’t like, Marshall did that and ONA succeeded in that mission at least, and subsequently Marshall has enjoyed a level of geriatric tenure rarely seen outside North Korea.

This has something to do with the strong following Marshall has built up, which in his waning days — Yoda has promised to leave the Pentagon this year, finally — some are daring to note possesses cult-like qualities. I’ve found most ONA analysis middling (it’s not all as bizarre as “Putin has autism”) and it’s evident that Marshall’s real skill is in building his office and generating massive loyalty to it — and himself.

It’s not hard to see how Marshall has done this, since ONA under him manifests all the worst defects of academia and intelligence work, run together. You have the intellectual vanity. You have the powerful mentorship that can verge on the cultish. Plus you dispense cash to promising acolytes and keep the loyal ones on the gravy train for decades, ensuring their adherence to the Yoda-Is-God party line. You hide behind classification to make sure nobody’s ever entirely sure who’s on the ONA payroll and who isn’t, plus you avoid anything like normal peer review. Finally, hardly any of your assessments, being classified, are seen by outside scholars, much less the public, so nobody really knows what you’re doing.

Therefore there’s no mystery how the laughable Connors debacle happened. There’s also a specific ONA-NWC angle here that merits attention. The Connors case is not isolated, and not the worst one either. I am aware of NWC faculty working for ONA, then selling the DoD-owned product on the open market at considerable profit. This is called “triple-dipping” and is flagrantly illegal, not to mention unethical. I’d like to tell you NWC cleaned this up and fired wrong-doers, but they did nothing of the sort. These sort of shenanigans being tolerated at NWC may have something to do with the fact that, for years, it’s been the only accredited graduate-level college in the United States that I know of where the dean of research, who is supposed to prevent this sort of thing, possesses no terminal degree in research.

Last year the Department of the Navy’s Inspector General produced an unflattering assessment of the Naval War College that scathingly noted that the college faculty is underqualified and overpaid: which is true. One can only wonder what a Pentagon IG assessment of Andy Marshall’s shop would look like. Perhaps someone will be spurred to do one, given these revelations about the Connors boondoggle. They should look into ONA-NWC connections while they’re at it. I’ve only scratched the surface here.

UPDATE (1120 EST, 6 Feb): Brenda Connors’ LinkedIn page is suitably vague but does manage to misspell both “behavioral” and “strategic.” In case she deletes this, which would be sensible of her, it’s visible below.

Why Putin Will Lose

This is turning out to be a bad week for Europeans hoping to resist the advance of Putinism. Ukraine continues to dither, rather than fight Russian invasion seriously. While Kyiv at last termed Moscow’s violence against their country “aggression,” they demurred from calling it a war, which it is, seemingly not realizing that if Ukraine won’t call this a war, NATO and the rest of Europe never will. The Poroshenko administration continues to pass on getting serious about defending their country, as I have roundly criticized.

News from Athens is also bad. The newly-elected hard-left SYRIZA party is not just anti-austerity, it’s openly pro-Putin. New Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras makes no effort to hide his admiration for this Kremlin, and the first foreign dignitary he entertained as PM was Russia’s ambassador to Greece. Greece’s new defense minister visited Moscow before the election, while the new foreign minister is pals with Aleksander Dugin, the Kremlin-approved neo-fascist ideologist (while Dugin, the son of a GRU general, is a marginal figure in Moscow, he is employed by the regime as fly-paper for foreign Putin groupies). Although SYRIZA is a very left-wing party, it fits comfortably into the mostly far-right Putinist coalition in Europe. As Dugin explained in 2013, “In Greece, our partners could eventually be Leftists from SYRIZA, which refuses Atlanticism, liberalism and the domination of the forces of global finance. As far as I know, SYRIZA is anti-capitalist and it is critical of the global oligarchy that has victimized Greece and Cyprus.”

Everybody expected that SYRIZA, with its anti-austerity platform, would pose immediate problems for the EU, but it’s now clear that the new government in Athens will bring problems for NATO as well. SYRIZA opposition to EU sanctions on Russia is stated openly, and it seems possible that Greece will now move into an openly pro-Moscow orientation in foreign and defense policy, which would pose serious complications for NATO. The emerging dividing line in European politics is no longer Left versus Right, but Pro- or Anti-Putin.

Most Western leaders remain blind, at this point willfully, to what Putin represents and what he wants. Moscow makes no effort to hide its worldview, a toxic blend of Chekism, militant Orthodoxy, xenophobia, and anti-Western resentments, but the Davos elite, being the consummate WEIRDos, cannot see the obvious. As long as NATO and EU leaders refuse to notice what is before their eyes, the West will continue to lose to a Russia that it dwarfs in political, military, and economic terms. In war, will counts more than numbers, as Putin is proving yet again.

It’s increasingly obvious that Moscow’s aim is the recreation of something like the Tsarist Empire of pre-Great War days. An important bellwether here is the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISI), another “independent” Moscow think-tank that actually isn’t independent. RISI’s head is Leonid Reshetnikov, another “former” Chekist, in fact a career KGB officer who retired as a two-star general and the head of foreign intelligence analysis. Like many, he has transformed into a militant religious believer with Big Ideas and enthusiastic backer of Putin’s Orthodox Jihad. Reshetnikov, who pushed for the invasion of Ukraine, now wants to erase Belarus also, and thereby recreate Tsarist Russia. It’s comforting to dismiss this as lunatic nostalgia, but Reshetnikov is no marginal figure, rather a connected member of the Chekist elite with close ties to the Kremlin.

Recreating Tsarist Russia within the frontiers of 1914 would mesh nicely with the fate of Ukraine I recently sketched as the likely outcome if Kyiv does not get serious about the war, soon. That this vision includes the re-annexation of the Baltic States, which would mean war with NATO, should be obvious to all. The West must look squarely at the fact that Putin may no longer fear such a confrontation. There is little time to waste.

In the midst of all this dire warning, I want to inject a dose of optimism. Putin’s neo-imperial project is doomed to fail. Its inherent contradictions are great, to add a fleeting Marxist note. It is an intensely Russian project and the very things that make Putinism intoxicating to Russians — its nationalist politics and religion, its paeans to Muscovy’s heroes and greatness past — render it toxic to foreigners. For all its ambitions beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, Putinism has nothing to offer non-Russians except vassalage.

It’s impossible to miss that European fans of Putin increase in number the farther you travel from Russia’s borders. Closer to Russia, the sort of far-right activists who agree with a lot of Moscow’s critique of the West’s WEIRD problem are intensely anti-Putin, out of fear; they know the Kremlin has no place for them in their plans for a New Europe, free of Atlanticism and the United States.

It’s easy to fantasize about Putin “saving” Europe from itself when you’re in Germany or Greece, or better yet France. Such illusions are rare in Poland, Romania, the Baltic States, much less Ukraine, where the hungry Russian bear looms close-by. One wonders what Marine Le Pen would think of her crush in the Kremlin if France were located a thousand kilometers eastward of where it is.

Ukrainians have no illusions, they know the Russians well. They are aware that most Russians, including Putin, don’t view theirs as a “real” country, despite the fact that it has forty-five million citizens and is the second biggest country in Europe. Putin has openly stated he does not think Ukraine is a country and he refers to them as “Little Russians,” an offensive Tsarist throwback. Ukrainians know that their language, the second-biggest in Imperial Russia, was banned entirely by the Tsar in 1876, while the Soviets, despite being more understanding about Ukrainian language and culture, brought genocide. After such recent historical experiences, why any Ukrainian would welcome Moscow’s rule is a good question.

The volunteers who are bearing so much of the defense of Ukraine’s East include many right-wingers whose views on the WEIRD West are indistinguishable from the Kremlin’s, but they know that Putin does not want allies, he seeks vassals. They are acquainted with what control by Moscow means. Ukraine’s Orthodox Church, which is powerful politically — Ukrainians tend to be more personally devout than Russians, who like to wax about Orthodox swords but don’t actually go to church much — has explained that it rejects Western post-modern values but emphatically does not reject Europe or democracy.

There is nothing new about any of this. In the decades before the Great War, Russian Slavophiles, who pushed an earlier version of militant mystical nationalism fused with Orthodoxy, fantasized about Russia taking over all their “little brothers” in Eastern Europe. They meddled internationally, helping cause World War I, and they were genuinely shocked to discover that Slavs living under the Habsburgs did not greet them as liberators. Ukrainians in Habsburg lands occupied by the Russian army in 1914-15 were immediately treated to what fellow Ukrainians living under the Tsar already experienced. They did not like it, and the Russians arrested thousands of Ukrainians who objected — clerics, teachers, politicians — packing them off to Siberia for the duration.

Such blindness is hardly a uniquely Russian problem. Nationalism is not for export, and is bound to collide with other people’s nationalisms. Comparisons to Hitler are always to be used sparingly but some apply here. Fascism never became an international movement because of the inherent contradictions of the competing nationalisms among Hitler’s wartime allies. For instance, Horthy’s Hungary and Antonescu’s Romania were happy to fight Bolshevism but they really hated and feared each other more.

Neither did the Germans deal well with political figures seeking to be partners, not vassals, of Nazi Germany. Narrowly focused on themselves and their nationalism, the Germans failed to develop any sort of pan-European coalition against the West and Bolshevism, even though there were millions of right-wing Europeans who would have joined them. It never seems to have occurred to Berlin that the more than thirty divisions of the Polish army would have been very helpful in the Wehrmacht‘s (ultimately failed) drive on Moscow in 1941, not to mention that there were many Poles who were as eager to crush the Soviets as anyone in Germany. Poles were inferior Slavs, Untermenschen, and had to be crushed, per Nazi dogma, and that was that — notwithstanding the fact that Germany never fully subdued the Poles, who resisted Nazi occupation with unmatched fervor.

Close to the end of the World War II, as Nazi dreams of empire were collapsing in flames, a noted French collaborationist explained how the Germans did it all wrong. Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, a fascist who became disillusioned with the Germans’ imperial project, shortly before taking his own life, thereby missing a date with an Allied hangman, castigated the “imbecilic” Hitler and Germany’s “extreme political incompetence”:

These military failings followed from Hitler’s total lack of imagination outside of Germany. He was [essentially] a German politician; good for Germany, but only there.

Lacking political culture, education, and a larger tradition, having never traveled, being a xenophobe like many popular demagogues, he did not possess an understanding of what was necessary to make his strategy and diplomacy work outside Germany. All his dreams, all his talents, were devoted to winning the war of 1914, as if conditions [in 1940] were still those of 1914.

Much the same could be said of Putin, a Chekist functionary, not a deep thinker, a man of limited experience of life outside Russia and the KGB cocoon. His brand of Tsarist-era nostalgia, fueled by nationalism and Orthodoxy, has nothing to offer non-Russians, and is not even wanted by some of Russia’s many minorities. Putin, like Hitler, lives in a mental time-warp that was outmoded already in 1914 — see his strangely 19th century views on diplomacy — and would be laughably obsolete now, were it not so dangerous. Moscow’s imperial experiments past all failed, thanks to the limited appeal of the Kremlin’s political program to millions of non-Russians, and this one will too, eventually.

But the ultimate defeat of Putinism, while pre-ordained, may not be quick. Ukraine may indeed fall under Russian vassalage again, and Europe shows no signs of waking up to the nature of this threat, much less what must be done to counter it. No sanctions will stop Putin, who cares little about economics, now. The Davos crowd, long on money and comfort, will likely keep its heads firmly in the sand until Russian tanks are audible, naively thinking Putin can be bought off.

To make the fall of Putinism happen sooner, not later, before Russian imperial fantasies cause a massive war that could kill millions, the West must address this threat seriously, now. Helping Ukraine resist Russian invasion is important, as is finally getting serious about deterrence in Eastern Europe. Just as important is resisting the Kremlin’s Special War against NATO and the EU, while addressing the legitimate concerns of Europeans about hot-button issues like immigration and national identity before they embrace Putin-approved “solutions.”

Vladimir Putin has already torn Europe’s post-Cold War consensus asunder, shattering the happy views of the Davos crowd (though they seem not to realize it), bringing war to the continent again. What this Kremlin wants is perfectly clear. The West’s not noticing Russia’s agenda is a choice, one with increasingly fateful consequences. Putin’s dream of Russian Empire over Eastern Europe will fail, as all preceding efforts of this kind did. NATO and the EU, with American help, have the power to determine how long it takes for Moscow’s fantasies to turn to dust, and how many countries and lives are destroyed before that happens. Let us hope they use it, soon.

Gotham in the Russian-American SpyWar

Yesterday brought front-page news of the FBI’s arrest of a Russian businessman in the Bronx who, according to the information released by the Department of Justice, had been operating as an agent of Russian intelligence for several years, collecting mainly economic information in the United States.

The man in custody is Evgeny Buryakov (39), AKA Zhenya, while his co-conspirators, who have already left the United States, are named as Igor Sporyshev (40) and Victor Podobnyy (27), also Russian nationals. While living in New York, Sporyshev was serving with the Russian trade mission there, while Podobnyy was an attaché with the Russian Mission to the United Nations.

All three were in actuality officers of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Sporyshev and Podobnyy were serving in “official” cover positions of the kind used by the SVR and its KGB predecessor for nearly a century, while Buryakov was serving in a “non-official cover” position, to use the verbiage cited by the FBI. That is, Buryakov enjoyed no diplomatic immunity, which is why he is in custody now; had the FBI managed to catch up with Sporyshev and Podobnyy there was not much they really could have done since those men enjoyed diplomatic protection. At worst, they would have been expelled from the United States — PNG’d in spy-speak (from being declared persona non grata).

To use proper Russian terminology, Sporyshev and Podobnyy were “Legals” while Buryakov was an “Illegal.” Such spies without official cover have long been the elite of the Kremlin’s espionage arm, a select cadre. During the Cold War they were legendary, not least because while Legals are relatively easy for the FBI, or any competent counterintelligence service, to detect — the odds of a Legal SVR officer being noticed as actually a spy during his or her tour as a “diplomat” in any Western country are high — Illegals are much more difficult to detect and neutralize.

Or rather, they were. During the Cold War, the KGB was careful to not “cross the streams” between their Legal and Illegal networks in the West much, if at all: associating with a Legal, who may be under surveillance, is a good way for an Illegal to wind up on the radar of the local security service. The massive roll-up of the SVR’s Illegals Network in 2010, which was a debacle for the Kremlin, was noticed by the media and the public mainly for the fetching Anna Chapman, red-headed Russian temptress extraordinaire, but represented a historic counterintelligence win for the FBI and the Intelligence Community.

Although the media had a good laugh at the Illegals Network, not seeing much important going on there, the reality was different. While it seems indisputable that several of the Illegals caught in 2010 were not up to the caliber of their predecessors of hoary Chekist legend, this has something to do with the fact that the SVR had to rebuild their networks abroad, which went to pieces after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over the last fifteen years, Russian intelligence has rebuilt their spy networks worldwide, and sometimes getting spies in the field inadequately prepared, backed by flimsy covers, has been a problem, as the Kremlin values quantity as well as quality. It should be noted that Russian military intelligence (GRU) also has networks of Legals and Illegals around the world, separate from SVR espionage.

As a former counterintelligence officer obsessed with espionage against the West, Putin has pushed hard for SVR and GRU to “get in the game” and they have. Today, Russian espionage against the West, including numbers of operatives and the tempo of their operations, equals its highest levels during the Cold War. Not every operation is a win, as the Chekist-in-Charge is well aware. The sudden loss of the Illegals Network in 2010 was a major disruption and to fill the gap the SVR sent less-able officers like Buryakov to America, perhaps too hastily.

Our counterintelligence was on to him almost immediately. Many leads emerged from the Illegals Network takedown, in multiple countries, and many tantalizing hints, considering subsequent developments, remain officially unresolved. Buryakov did not help himself by meeting with Sporyshev and Podobnyy, but otherwise he had limited ability to communicate with Moscow Center, i.e. SVR headquarters.

The story of his work is standard spy stuff: covert communications, dead-drops, brush-passes, sometimes fumbling efforts to recruit American businesspeople and students. The main target of this SVR network in New York was economic espionage, particularly regarding the financial sector. They seem to have landed no big fish, but it needs to be kept in mind that the DOJ account of the Buryakov ring released yesterday is the unclassified version of the case which always omits much important detail. Russian espionage operations are seldom straightforward, while some defy real understanding for years, even decades.

Significantly, U.S. counterintelligence had an excellent look into this trio’s activities, due mainly to good SIGINT — since the greatest weakness of any spy is the need to communicate. Thanks to this, eventually the banker/spy Buryakov fell prey to a ruse when a slightly-too-good-to-be-true source emerged and he took a gamble that a savvier officer might have demurred from. But the source promised classified U.S. Government information, as well as casino goodies; of course, this source was actually under FBI control, a dangle.

As with the Illegals Network in 2010, journalists and commentators who are ignorant of Russian espionage tradecraft are blowing this story off as being of little consequence, even comedic. There is, however, nothing funny about this case. In the first place, it shows that the Kremlin continues to collect economic intelligence in the West, using various covers to steal information of many sorts. This is a big win for the FBI and U.S. counterintelligence, but luck was on our side here, and that cannot be counted on.

Moreover, Illegals have many purposes, including functioning as long-term sources to maintain agent networks in the event of war, when diplomatic facilities close and Legals get pulled home. Given the parlous state of relations between the West and Russia now, this is not a theoretical concern. The Kremlin, unlike most Western intelligence services, tends towards the long-view and worst-case planning with utmost seriousness.

Ominously, among the things Buryakov was looking to steal included very sensitive information regarding high-speed Wall Street trading, automated trading algorithms, and “destabilization of markets.” If that thought doesn’t worry you, you’re not paying attention. There is a bona fide financial and economic war being waged now between Russia and the West, and Moscow intends to win. The potential threat to remove Russia from SWIFT, the international banking information-sharing mechanism, has reduced the Kremlin to fits. Today Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev promised that his government’s reaction to booting Russia from SWIFT, which would be tantamount to total financial isolation for Moscow, would be “unlimited” and not merely economic in nature. Western pundits are chuckling at the SVR’s missteps in New York today, but it may be Putin and his spies who get the last laugh here.

UPDATEOver at CrossingWallStreet, Eddy Elfenbein — whom you should be following if you care about your financial future — has added his thoughts on the Wall Street side of this case, a must read.

Russia’s Emerging Holy War

At the beginning of this week, President Barack Obama explained that Russia, hit hard by Western sanctions, is losing in its confrontation with the West and NATO caused by Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. In his State of the Union address, Obama displayed similar swag and bluster against both the Kremlin and Congressional Republicans, seemingly without regard for any recent events. As the President explained:

We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters. That’s how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.

“Every one of these sentences is, to put it mildly, a stretch,” explained one seasoned Kremlin-watcher, and the news this week from Ukraine has been grim, contra Obama’s hopeful pose. While Russia’s economy remains seriously hurt from sanctions and, even more, the sharp drop in oil prices, the notion that this is taming Putin’s baser urges is not only untrue, it’s more likely the opposite of the truth, as I cautioned a month ago.

Facts have increasingly been getting in the way of this White House’s messaging, on many fronts, so just as Obama now calls for political bipartisanship, after six years of doing the opposite, all the while ignoring the massive blowout of his own party by the Republicans in Congress that just happened again, for the second time in his presidency, Obama likewise seems to think that a bit of swag, plus a public taunt, aimed at Putin when the former KGB man is down on his luck will have the desired geopolitical effect. This White House does not seem to dwell on the fact that, while the domestic enemy may be politically obstructionist, the foreign enemy has all sorts of Special War unpleasantness in his arsenal, not to mention thousands of nuclear weapons.

If nothing else, the current crisis has demonstrated to Russians, with Kremlin prodding, that the United States remains their Main Enemy that it was for decades, now led by the arrogant and weak Obama, who is hated by the Russian public. The Chekists who run Putin’s Russia, who protested for years that America wanted to defeat Russia’s post-Cold War resurgence, that the U.S. will stop at nothing to bring Russia to heel while humiliating it, have been proved right, at least as far as most Russians are concerned.

To the shock and dismay of hopeful Westerners, including nearly all NATO leaders, the hard hit of sanctions has caused Russians to hate the West, not Putin. Most Russians view their war in Ukraine as a legitimate defense of Russians and Russian interests, certainly nothing like America’s aggressive wars of choice halfway around the world, and they are backing the Kremlin now.

Word of this defiance has even crept into The New York Times, which otherwise is a pitch-perfect expression of the WEIRD worldview. As Russian troops are advancing deeper into Ukraine, fresh from victory at Donetsk, NYT asked what on earth is going on here, why would Russians want more war now that the cost of it all to their economy is becoming obvious? The explanation was proffered by a Moscow economist: “The influence of economists as a whole has completely vanished,” he opined about the Kremlin: “The country is on a holy mission. It’s at war with the United States, so why would you bother about the small battleground, the economy?”

Once again, Westerners have imagined Putin is just like one of their leaders — cautious, timid even, obsessed with Wall Street and finely tuned to what big donors care about — when our Chekist-in-Charge is nothing of the sort. With perfect timing, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, addressed the Duma this week, for the very first time, delivering a speech long on social conservatism, including a plea to ban abortions to help Russian demographics, as well as a caution to ignore the West’s dangerous “pseudo-values.” Putin’s Russia is inching ever closer to Byzantine-style symphonia, and in the war against America and the West that is coming — and, according to many Russians, is already here — the Kremlin wants its people to be spiritually fortified for a long fight.

Bankers and oligarchs, who get much attention from the Western media, have become peripheral figures in Moscow. Months before the Ukraine crisis broke with Russia’s seizure of Crimea, Putin privately warned wealthy men whom he deemed friends and supporters to start getting their money out of the West, as tough times were coming. In the Kremlin’s view, oligarchs who failed to do this, and are now facing ruin, have nobody to blame but themselves. Any billionaires who criticize Putin too freely will meet with prison or worse.

It’s increasingly clear that the security sector, what Russians term the special services, are running the show. They are Putin’s natural powerbase, his “comfort zone” in Western parlance, plus they are the guarantor of his maintaining power as the economic crisis worsens. Current reports indicate that Putin’s inner circle now is made up entirely of siloviki, to use the Russian term, men from the special services:  National Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev, Federal Security Service (FSB) head Aleksandr Bortnikov, Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Mikhail Fradkov, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu.

Patrushev headed the FSB from 1999, the beginning of Putin’s presidency, to 2008, and was a previously a career KGB officer, serving in Leningrad counterintelligence just like Putin: and just like Putin, he is a Chekist to his core. Current FSB director Bortnikov, who took over from Patrushev in 2008, is another career Chekist who joined the KGB after college and, yet again, comes out of the Leningrad office. Fradkov is not officially a Chekist by background, having spent the early years of his Kremlin career in foreign trade matters, but he was “close” to the KGB during that time, and he has headed the SVR, the successor to the KGB’s elite First Chief Directorate, since 2007; it says something about Putin’s confidence in him that Fradkov survived the 2010 debacle of the exposure of the SVR’s Illegals network in the United States, which was nearly as demoralizing to the SVR as the Snowden Operation has been for U.S. intelligence. The last, Shoygu, who has headed the powerful defense ministry since 2012, is not a military man by background, yet has longstanding ties to military intelligence (GRU).

As Russia’s economic crisis has mounted, Putin has unsurprisingly turned to fellow Chekists, some of them very like himself by background. They share a worldview which is conspiratorial and deeply anti-Western; they view America as their Main Enemy and now believe Obama is on a mission to destroy Russia. That they will not allow, and they will stop at nothing to halt what prominent Orthodox clerics recently have termed the “American project” that wants to destroy Holy Russia. This volatile combination of Chekist conspiracy-thinking and Orthodox Third Rome mysticism, plus Russian xenophobia and a genuine economic crisis, means that 2015 promises to be a dangerous year for the world. The Kremlin now believes they are at war with the United States, an Orthodox Holy War in the eyes of many Russians, and that struggle is defensive and legitimate. It would be good if Obama and his staff paid attention. This is about much more than Ukraine.

The Fate of Ukraine

Events this week may finally wake up Kyiv to the reality it is facing. Ukraine is at war with Russia. It has been so for many months, as was obvious some time ago to those with eyes wanting to see. Ukraine’s government has not been in that group, and as military reverses mounted, hiding from painful facts has continued. In their own way, Kyiv mouthpieces have been nearly as dishonest in their depictions of the Russo-Ukrainian War as the Kremlin.

In the face of mountains of contrary evidence, Kyiv insisted that the war in the Donbas has been an “anti-terrorist operation” and that the enemy found there are “terrorists” rather than the Russian soldiers that most of them are. In recent days, Moscow has dropped any pretense and is dispatching battalions across the border essentially openly. Once commonplace efforts to mask insignia identifying these units as regular Russian troops have dissipated as Vladimir Putin feels he no longer needs to hide his aggressive presence in Ukraine.

Why should he? Kyiv is a paper tiger, the Europeans are cowered in the corner, terrified of the Kremlin’s next move, while Obama is talking tough about how Russia is losing this conflict, despite the fact that obviously it is not. As usual, Obama is all vapid and chest-puffing talk, coupled with very little action. The White House’s tendency towards escapism in foreign policy has become increasingly marked in a manner that ought to worry all those who like a free Europe, but Obama has no grounds to criticize Kyiv for its dishonest depiction of events in Eastern Europe.

The fall of Donetsk airport this week says a lot about Petro Poroshenko and his presidency, none of it flattering. While there was little Ukraine could have done about the loss of Crimea last spring — they were floored by Putin’s unleashing of Special War with its “little green men,” just as NATO was, and Ukraine had no desire to confront Russia head-on, thinking a wider war might be averted — Kyiv’s leadership since then deserves harsh assessment.

Ham-handed summertime efforts to put pressure on Russian troops and their local proxies led to disaster at Ilovaisk, where ill-prepared and supplied Ukrainian troops and volunteers were cut to pieces. Rather than take the obvious lesson from this, that due to a lack of troops, especially battle-ready ones, Ukraine needed to establish more defensible positions in the Southeast, Kyiv did nothing of the sort.

Instead we wound up with the needless siege of Donetsk airport, an objective of no strategic value except that Poroshenko and his administration said many times that it must be held at any costs, implying Ukraine itself would be lost if this worthless heap of rubble fell to the rebels. Given such rhetoric, one might expect a no-holds barred effort to reinforce the defense, but this being Poroshenko, nothing of the sort happened.

Instead the “cyborgs” bravely holding on to Donetsk airport remained outnumbered, poorly supplied, and dismally led, so their eventual defeat was only a matter of time. With astonishing stupidity, just last weekend Poroshenko, breathing fire, publicly promised that all lost Ukrainian land would be retaken, then turned around and said he was a peace president, not a war president. Then he promptly flew to Davos to hang out with the global one-percent-of-one-percent jet-set. It’s no surprise that many Ukrainian frontline soldiers hate Putin yet actively despise their own president.

I’ve already called on Poroshenko to step down if he cannot manage the war, and it’s painfully clear that he cannot. My counsel last week, that Ukraine must emulate Croatia in the 1990’s — and definitely not Georgia more recently — if it wants to win this war, has been met with pushback from fans of Poroshenko, whose argument really boils down to: this is hard. Yes, war is very hard, perhaps even hell if you believe certain battle-tested generals.

A lot of Ukrainians are angry that they have been left in the lurch by NATO, forgetting that they are not a member of the Alliance. NATO will never go to war over the Donbas and the sooner Ukrainians accept that and stop feeling sorry for themselves and get in the war, the better. To be clear: Putin has engaged in naked aggression against his neighbor, just as Milošević did against Croatia in 1991. Yet if Zagreb had approached that war as Ukraine has dealt with its current crisis, complaining instead of fighting, substituting hashtags for strategy, one-third of Croatia would still be in Serbian hands today, an eternally frozen conflict, and that country would still be decades away from membership in NATO or the EU.

Given the complete lack of serious mobilization for war by Poroshenko, the next move is Putin’s. Given rather strongly suggested Russian objectives, plus looking at a map, it’s likely Russian forces will next move on Mariupol, in an effort to create a land bridge to Crimea. Outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian troops will resist bravely, again, and again they will lose. At this point there is nothing militarily stopping Putin from creating Novorossiya, a Russian pseudo-state running from the Donbas across the Black Sea coast over to their pseudo-state in Transnistria.

Creating Novorossiya would deprive Ukraine of any coastline, which is another reason Putin may seek to do that. It needs to be understood that, after so many needless and humiliating Ukrainian defeats, Putin is only one operational-level victory away from breaking hard-pressed Kyiv’s military in any meaningful sense. The Kremlin can already dictate its terms in the Southeast of Ukraine, and soon it will be able to exert its political will, without a full-scale invasion, over the whole shambolic country.

Putin has the military means to take over all Ukraine, particularly given Russia’s total control of the air, but that would be a fool’s errand, a humanitarian nightmare coupled with an endless insurgency. We can assume the General Staff has told “the boss” what would happen in that case, and we can hope Putin is listening. More likely is the creation of Novorossiya, step by step, under the Russian tricolor, and with that the shattering of any Ukrainian conventional military capability — and political will.

After that, the partition of Ukraine will be easy. The most likely end-state would be a three-way cutting up of the country, with Novorossiya, like Crimea, being joined to the Motherland by a triumphant Putin. The middle of the country around Kyiv, still called Ukraine, would emerge a rump Russian vassal state, independent in name only, to serve as a buffer between Russia and NATO. Ukraine’s West would go its own way, by default. Consisting of an expanded East Galicia, Austrian until 1918, this is the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism, unclaimed even by Russian hardliners, who acknowledge its special status and history. Those with long memories will recall that in 1918, after the Habsburgs fell, the West did not seek immediate union with the rest of Ukraine: expect the Kremlin to “remember” this soon. West Ukraine, the remnant not eaten by the Russian shark, would soon join NATO and the EU, as the Russians off-record understand and accept.

This fate is not preordained, yet it approaches fast, and should be acknowledged as the likely outcome of this war by Ukrainians who seem unable to grasp the gravity of the situation Ukraine faces — starting with Poroshenko. Should Ukraine be broken and partitioned by Russia, a sad history will have repeated itself, and Putin will have thoroughly overturned Europe’s post-Cold War order. This is only part of a broader struggle between Putin and the West — since members of the Russian elite are publicly warning of war with the United States, we may want to pay attention — but Ukraine is the main battleground for now. There Putin is winning, and he will continue to triumph unless Kyiv decides to get serious about the war that has been forced upon Ukraine. They will lose much more than Crimea and the Donbas if they do not.

The West, Islam, and the Last Stand of the WEIRD

Yet again, Pope Francis has stirred up the Western commentariat by addressing social issues, this time contraception and having babies. Every time this pope talks about matters sexual there are gasps from enlightened Western post-moderns, who seem shocked that Francis is actually a Catholic. They are so accustomed to the laid-back, non-judgmental “cafeteria Catholicism” around them that a Catholic cleric, much less the Pope of Rome, publicly endorsing what the church actually teaches on such issues, however gently, leads to dropped jaws.

After all, Francis seems so nice and progressive, with his outreach to the poor and welcoming things stated about gays and whatnot — these having been the source of consternation among some Catholic traditionalists — and then he turns out to be another old white guy with a lot of “sexual issues.” I am not a Catholic, but it never ceases to amaze me how educated Western post-moderns cannot seem to fathom that no pope is going to ditch centuries of social teaching just to get a nice write-up in Salon or Vox. Francis is a compassionate man, but as the head of the Catholic Church he advocates positions on matters sexual that seem profoundly outdated and literally unthinkable to many in the West today.

Unthinkability is the issue here. The WEIRD demographic, as I’ve explained before, standing for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, is wholly dominant among our media elites that play a huge role in forming opinions and judging the acceptability of the same. Over the last half-century the WEIRD vanguard has taken over the academy, the media, and the entertainment world; one of its better-known members is in the White House right now. Obama’s castigation in 2008 of “bitter” Americans who cling to guns and religion was a perfect one-sentence explanation of how WEIRDos view less educated and enlightened fellow citizens, which is no doubt why his opponents will cite it forever.

There is no tyranny as offensive as a cultural tyranny, of course, and just as affluent, educated post-moderns view their lessers with undisguised contempt, the guns-and-bibles brigade returns that contempt with interest. This goes some way to explaining why American politics has become so bitter in recent years: both sides simply hate each other and bother less and less to mask it.

The WEIRD contingent has had an impressive string of victories since the 1960’s, especially in America. Their record of wins, fast, may have no precedent in history, since culture tends to shift slowly, sometimes glacially. The culture war has been won, and the victory for the WEIRD side is essentially total. In the last fifty years, racial relations have been so dramatically transformed by government and culture, hand in hand, that racism, once casual among many whites, is totally unacceptable in anything resembling polite society. It speaks volumes that Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered, dismembered and ate seventeen young men, many of them black and Hispanic, was at pains to make clear that, though he was a cannibalistic serial killer, he wasn’t racist: that fact he deemed important.

Even more transformational have been shifts in gender relations since the 1960’s, with American young women today being better educated than their male counterparts, with access to opportunities personal, professional, and sexual that their grandmothers could only have dreamed of. Some feminists now ask what good men are actually for, not in jest. Young men have noticed this seismic shift and numbers of them are dropping out of the race — professional and sexual — in a way their dads and granddads could not possibly comprehend. In Japan, this has become an official problem, and has a good deal to do with Japan’s staggering demographic crisis. As with race, feminism has triumphed so totally in just a couple generations that we have NGOs plus governmental bureaucracies hunting for evidence of racism or sexism, however fragmentary, to prove the need for more transformation. When young men lose interest in sex, as has occurred in Japan and is spreading in the West, something big is happening.

While race is of interest to the WEIRD demographic, sex is more central to their worldview. Catfights among progressives about determining who has more sexual privilege are fun to watch yet challenging for normals to comprehend. Here the LGBT issue has played a major role. Simply put, less than twenty-five years ago, gay issues were peripheral politically, confined to America’s far-Left fringe, while topics like gay marriage were never discussed by mainstream figures. Thanks to media and government action, now LGBT issues are given a place of importance in all discussions of social issues, while soon the Supreme Court will take up gay marriage, which may prove its most hot-button case since Roe v. Wade.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, LGBT issues are another area where the culture war has turned out to be one-sided in the end. Opposition to gay marriage is fading fast, while it barely exists among younger Americans. However, just as with race and gender issues, LGBT advocates are showing minimal magnanimity in victory, preferring to double-down on public dissenters. Even the powerful are being driven from jobs and public life over their opposition, even when quiet, to gay marriage. There is more than a whiff of the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) mob about all this, and the idea of live-and-let live does not seem to be in fashion among the Cultural Marxist Left. It’s difficult to see how America avoids a serious clash between progressives and tradition-minded religious groups over all this.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Cultural Marxists have won fast, and their transformation of the post-modern West has been very quick by any historical standards, the Left is brimming with confidence that their revolution is final. Hence the rhetoric about their enemies being on “the wrong side of history,” heard regularly, even from Obama. But any historian will tell you that history is not read that simply, and is seldom quite so linear: ask Erich Honecker how that March of History worked out.

It’s tough to miss that the post-modern Western Left is immersed in WEIRD narratives so deeply that it is unable to recognize, much less tolerate, alternative viewpoints. We have come a long way from the Bolshevism of the last century, which after a brief period of Leninist experimentation in social matters, turned towards an aggressive traditionalism; Stalin and his Red minions had views on abortion, gender, and sexual minorities that would make FoxNews blush. The revolution needed soldiers and workers, meaning hard men, and what were women for if not to make them?

Today’s social revolutionaries have created a post-modern WEIRD paradise that does not seem to know what it wants save permanent revolution. How this new society can be maintained for long without enough children of its own is the great imponderable, since the signature achievement of the sexual revolution that began in the 1960’s, from any big-picture historical perspective, is the amazing decline in fecundity in any society it touches.

Mass immigration is the preferred solution for WEIRDos, because it gets them off the hook for reproducing while providing interesting ethnic restaurants, plus ample cheap labor to do the household chores that affluent progressives don’t seek to do  themselves (until recently many of these domestic tasks — cleaning, fixing, lawn-cutting — were assigned to a family’s children, who no longer exist in numbers).

In the United States, mass immigration, heavily from Latin America, is causing discontent but is seen as a nuisance, at most, by WEIRDos, who seldom know the working-class Americans who do see this as a serious threat to their economic and social well-being. In Europe, however, the influx comes heavily from Africa and Asia, and is mainly Muslim, leading to all kinds of problems, the most visible of them being terrorism.

The recent attacks around Paris have caused another outburst of introspection of a highly limited sort in the West. The Usual Suspects are, of course, explaining that all this unpleasantness has nothing to do with Islam. I’ve castigated this progressive myth-making already, as well as those on the other side, who seem to want a permanent war on Islam, which has more than a billion-and-a-half adherents.

Finding a middle path on discussing this problem is tricky but here we go. I have a Ph.D. in history, not Islamic Studies, which Islamist apologists insist you must if you discuss Islamic anything, but I’ve studied the subject in detail, I know Islam’s history and theology. Just as important, I’ve spent time in Muslim countries in many places, I’ve gotten to know many Muslims of diverse backgrounds: some remain my dear friends, some have been lovers (I came close to marrying a Muslim woman: that’s another story). Without further delay I shall engage in what SJWs call stereotyping and normals term analysis.

Issues of culture and development cannot be decoupled from discussions about the Muslim diaspora in the West. Pakistanis in America — many well educated professionals, nearly all speaking English — are frequently successful immigrants, many are notably patriotic and see no contradiction between their faith and their Americanism. Yet their illiterate co-nationals who come to Britain from the most backwards part of Pakistan — they bring their redneck habits, including cousin-marriage, to Yorkshire — are a breeding ground for crime and extremism. This is not all about Islam, other factors matter too, but we must be able to discuss Islam to understand what is going on.

France, which is home to a quarter of the twenty million Muslims living in Western Europe, likewise presents a complex picture that defies thumbnail assessment. The Parisian concept of laïcité, which was defended staunchly by Marine Le Pen in her New York Times op-ed demanding that France talk about Islamic extremism now, has been a success with more Muslim immigrants than many realize. There are millions of French Muslims, mainly of North African extraction, who have assimilated rather well to life on the other side of the Mediterranean, and many are well adjusted French patriots; some are even supporters of Le Pen’s Front national.

Westerners have a tough time understanding how Islam is actually lived by believers, while WEIRDos, thanks to their biases, seem incapable of grasping the essentials. In the first place, it must be understood that Islam is less a religion than a culture and a complete way of life. It has nothing to do with “religion” as defined by the post-Enlightenment West, which is comfortable with faiths that can be safely placed in a box ninety-five percent of the time, locked away when not in church, temple, or mosque.

Islam, being a programmatic faith not confined to the mosque, provides detailed commentary and rules on daily life, including matters sexual that invariably seem strange to post-modern Westerners, who view any infringement on personal sexuality as oppressive. This is a subject of regular mocking in parts of the Western press. Few care to note that Islam is very like Orthodox or Conservative Judaism in such matters.

Islam as actually lived by its adherents easily breaks down into three basic groups that are replicated everywhere there is Islam. Seeing how people live their faith, day in and day out, is illuminating. There is a genuinely radical element — perhaps ten percent, rather more in the West — that advocates Islamism, that is applying Islam in politics, by force if necessary. The aggressively pious vanguard of this sort pushes violence, even murderous barbarism, to further its aims. It has no sympathy for the West and seeks confrontation and victory, not dialogue. Its loudest adherents are usually dysfunctional sorts with a criminal past.

On the other side, maybe another ten percent, there are Muslims who actually reject the faith, de facto, but if they’re living in a Muslim country they keep relatively quiet about it, lest they be denounced as “apostates.” Many are well educated. Such atheists, or at least serious Islam-skeptics, are frequently encountered in the West; it’s seldom noted that many such people emigrate to freer countries precisely to be able to live their skepticism openly.

But the vast majority of Muslims fall into a big group that lives the faith as best they can, without questioning its essentials. They try, they fail, they keep trying. They usually make an effort during Ramadan, at least, and if a life crisis appears, they will pray and seek the comfort of the mosque; the rest of the time their lived faith is rather hit-or-miss. In other words, they are completely normal human beings.

It needs to be clear that these majoritarians do not question Islam: if pressed, they will state the problem, the failing, is with them, not the faith. It should be obvious that the group wholly absent from this division-into-threes is the post-modern Western skeptic, the nominal mainline Protestant, or perhaps a very Reform Jew, who’s down with gay marriage since it’s been “reinterpreted” in recent decades. Hipster Jesus — into you with your sins, cool with your ironic vibe — does not have a corollary in Islam. The hardest thing for WEIRDos, who view all religion as odd, and perhaps risible, when not dangerous, to grasp is — Muslims actually believe this stuff.

Not having been touched by the Enlightenment, much less post-modernism, Muslims are on a different planet, intellectually speaking, than WEIRDos. At best, they talk past each other. As someone who has advocated a tough approach to Muslim immigrants who do not seek to assimilate to Western norms, particularly if they have extreme views, some sympathy for them nevertheless is in order here.

It must be deeply confusing to any Muslim newcomer to France to encounter a place of such unbelief and debauchery as Paris, where raw sexuality is everywhere, women run free in every sense, and faiths of all kinds are mocked openly. Free speech is not a French priority, and certain kinds of speech are protected, while others are not. Since I cannot rationally explain why French law protects certain speech, and not others, I don’t expect an unlettered immigrant from West Africa to make sense of it all either.

The list of things that can get you thrown in a French jail for saying is long, including “offensive” speech against various racial, religious, and sexual minorities, but it must be mysterious to Muslims why gross public indecencies against the Prophet are tolerated when denial of the Holocaust, a purely human affair, is not. When a founder of Charlie Hebdo, the publication whose profane cartoons provoked mass murder, says that its editor, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, was a provocateur/jerk-off whose offensiveness got everybody killed, we can imagine what less sympathetic Muslims might feel about this case. Not least because Charb was no free speech advocate, rather a far-Left agitator who tried hard to get his political opponents banned while offending every traditionalist, of every stripe, he could.

To illustrate how complex this all actually is, allow me to sketch my good friend A., whom I’ve known for years, a highly assimilated French Muslim. His grandfather came from Algeria after a long career as a decorated French colonial soldier, one of the lucky harkis to escape the bloodbath after Algerian independence, when deGaulle condemned so many who had fought for France to an evil fate. A. has filled those shoes well as a soldier and then a career intelligence officer. His French patriotism is sincere and deep; he has visited Algeria a couple times, his command of Arabic being no greater than mine, and didn’t like it. France is his home, his patrie.

In matters of faith, A. is privately a modest skeptic, but he makes an effort during Ramadan, mostly to appease his father, a kind old gentleman who, like many do, turned to faith in an old age marked by illness and loneliness.  The rest of the year, A. regularly goes boozing and whoring like any counterintelligencer worth his salt. His ceaseless quest for the “right beurette” continues, unfulfilled. He is a Muslim and proud of it, but sincerely hates extremists and admits to feeling more than a little sympathy for the Front national, for its willingness to “stand up for France” (while A. is purely Algerian by background, he possesses a dislike of Germans to match anyone in France).

Yet A.’s views on many matters would distress WEIRDos. He thinks outright atheists are contemptible and views liberals with undisguised distaste, especially if they are Jewish and/or gay, and he is no fan of Israel. It should be noted that A. is no fonder of  newer Muslim immigrants who freeload on welfare. Yet his anti-Semitism is far from deep or uniform, and he reveres Éric Zemmour, a fellow Frenchman of (Jewish) Algerian descent, as someone “who says the truth.” A. wants Muslims to be respected yet thinks it would be best if jihadists were taken out over the ocean in helicopters, Argentinian junta style, and dropped into the deep from 5,000 feet.

What to make of all this? My friend represents a best-case scenario for Europe, a Muslim whose faith is modest, entirely private, and who feels sincerely at home in Europe, but I know his views on many issues would not pass progressive muster. Survey after survey demonstrates that Muslims in Europe broadly possess views that would be shocking to the WEIRD demographic. Significant portions of Europe’s Muslim community, particularly among more recent arrivals, espouse attitudes that are, at best, conditional in their condemnation of violence, i.e. jihad, while their views on Israel and Jews are implacably hostile.

Short of a coercive reeducation program worthy of Mao’s Cultural Revolution I’m not sure what can be done about all this in 2015. Even if Muslim immigration were halted tomorrow — which is surely not on the table yet — Western Europe will still possess twenty million Muslims, many quite unassimilated, who are reproducing at a rate far beyond the native population. It’s difficult to see how this can end well — or peacefully.

The tragedy is that European powers were, until recently, able to inspire loyalty from their Muslims. France got millions of African Muslims, like A.’s grandfather, to fight for their empire in both World Wars, and Britain managed the same. The Ottoman Empire’s pompous declaration of jihad in 1914, on behalf of the Central Powers, went nowhere as Muslim soldiers of the Indian Army turned out to be loyal to the British Empire, the world’s biggest Muslim power, even in battle against fellow Muslims.

Muslims in Russia proved equally faithful to the Tsar during World War I, that country’s aggressive Orthodox Christianity notwithstanding, while Austria-Hungary found that their Bosnian Muslim subjects were their most loyal and combative soldiers. In the Habsburgs’ last war, the 2nd Bosnian Regiment, the legendary Zweier Bosniaken, won more valor decorations than any other of the emperor’s regiments, while Bosnian Muslims died at the front at the highest rate of any of Vienna’s many ethnic groups.

Such tenacious loyalty to an “infidel” empire seems difficult to imagine a century later, but was understandable at the time, for the simple reason that Western colonial powers protected Islam and ensured Muslims could keep their faith and traditions even under an explicitly Christian occupier. Austria-Hungary’s 1878 invasion of Bosnia met stiff resistance from Muslims, but they were soon bought off with generous allowances for sharia, Islamic law, and Muslim conscripts in the Habsburg Army were led in prayer by imams in Austro-Hungarian uniform with a rigor many had never practiced in civilian life. The slogan, “On the path of Allah, for our Austrian homeland,” was cited by Bosnian troops headed to battle in 1914-1918, and it was no lie, for the Habsburgs protected Islam, and for any pious Muslim, Austria-Hungary counted as dar al-Islam.

How, then, are European countries today doing such a terrible job of assimilating Muslim immigrants? In the first place, Christianity has been replaced by secularism, often of an aggressive kind. We have changed; Muslims have not. The sort of in-your-face secularism that’s commonplace in Europe now is difficult for Muslims to relate to, having no resonance with their historical experience, and is viewed with contempt by many of them. Bonds of tribe and kin that have frayed in the West remain powerful among Muslims. Post-modern permissiveness in sexual matters is likewise met with bemused anger by many Muslims, some of whom gleefully rape European women they view as whores.

Crime is one of the great unmentionables in all this, preventing honest dialogue. In 2010, Éric Zemmour was convicted of racial incitement for stating that Muslim immigrants were grossly overrepresented among France’s violent criminals, though few could plausibly state he was wrong on the numbers. Over the last generation, France has created a serious problem in the suburbs of Paris, among other major cities, where Muslim ghettos are crowded with young people who seldom if ever work, living on welfare while plotting crimes of various sorts, while seething with resentment and hate for “infidels” around them. For some, this path of hatred leads to jihad. Here the Paris killers, with their obsession with angry American rap music, were a walking, vapid, and murderous cliche.

Many are now worried about low-grade warfare erupting across Western Europe, as jihadist cells go active and plant bombs and open fire. All over the European Union, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, police and spies are watching would-be killers closely. Although there is no enduring security fix to this daunting problem, as I’ve explained before, consistent police and intelligence pressure on Salafi radicals can reduce terrorism, if the will exists to sustain such aggressive operations by the security services.

While more terrorism seems likely, it may not be anything as dramatic as alarmists and thrillers would promise. France already faces an Islamic insurgency of a low-grade kind — it is habitually downplayed by the authorities as “isolated incidents” that happen “at random” when shootings and driving cars into people is anything but random — that may continue on low-boil for years, claiming a few victims at a time, not dozens, much less hundreds. French inner cities may come to resemble shambolic American inner cities like Detroit or Chicago, where war-like casualty rates among civilians are similarly dismissed as “street crime,” with the difference that France’s troublemakers will be inspired by Salafi jihadism while being shockingly well armed. Needless to add, more militarization of police and society will follow.

It’s all too soon to tell. All-out civil war — think more Mad Max than Gettysburg — cannot be ruled out at this juncture. What is clear, however, is that Europe has no idea how to respond to this mounting crisis in any politically coherent fashion. Pushing Marine Le Pen, who heads the most popular political party in France, to the margins of the national dialogue about domestic extremism seems certain to increase political polarization when it needs to be reduced. As I’ve stated many times, unless Europe’s mainstream parties find a way to engage alienated voters of the sort to whom the FN and Germany’s PEGIDA appeal, they are surrendering this vital and politically explosive issue — which is only continuing to grow, especially among the young — to the friends of Vladimir Putin, whose commitment to democracy may be less than sincere.

In his professorial way, President Obama has told Europeans that they must assimilate immigrants better, in order to defeat terrorism, without explaining how this might be done. This lecturing has gone down as well in Europe as does European pontificating at Americans how we need to be nicer to blacks: cheap posturing is not a policy, anywhere. Moreover, Obama’s unhelpful hint leaves out the critical question of how many Muslims in Europe actually want to assimilate to a society that many of them openly loathe. (Neither does it help matters when major NATO leaders tell Muslim immigrants that under no circumstances should they assimilate to European ways.) Ample, if anecdotal, evidence suggests that Muslims in Europe who actually want to adopt European values are doing so, at their own pace, while Muslims who want no part of WEIRD anything are rejecting our post-modernism — some of them with violence.

None of this mess, which has been decades in the making, is conducive to easy solutions. There is no European-wide fix available; individual countries will need to fashion bespoke responses, based on the unique circumstances of their own Muslim populations. But a start to getting on the road to societal health would be making clear that immigrants who have no intention of accepting European political values should not enter Europe. In this vein, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Moroccan-born mayor of Rotterdam, which possesses a large Muslim population, told co-religionists who are uncomfortable with European freedoms that they simply need to “f*** off.”

Such very free speech aside, institutionalized escapism continues to dominate Western debates on this issue. FoxNews recently caused a ruckus on both sides of the Atlantic with a discussion of Muslim “no-go” areas in Europe. The speaker overstated his case, as he tends to do, leading to hysteria among those eager to dismiss any notion that such areas, reminiscent of parts of North Ireland in the 1970’s where British security forces dared not operate, actually exist. The subsequent pontification has been strong, notwithstanding the fact that such no-go areas do exist in some parts of Europe, as any serious analysis would reveal. A brief discussion with any European cop or spook working operational counterterrorism would bring wisdom that would be discomforting to progressives.

The truth about Islam is that it approaches other religions from a triumphalist position, and always has. By default, it anticipates submission, not co-existence in any sense recognizable to the post-Enlightenment West. While its history is hardly all jihad, Islam’s “bloody borders” are a matter of record, not opinion. The last Ottoman effort to subdue Europe — one of many Islamic invasion efforts over the centuries — came in 1683, and was stopped, just barely, at Vienna. That sounds like a long time ago, but when King John Sobieski’s Polish cavalry appeared from the north to cut the Ottoman siege short, Harvard had been open for nearly a half-century, America’s coastal colonies were thickly settled, and Ben Franklin’s birth was barely two decades off. This was over three centuries ago, but hardly ancient history.

Many progressives fall prey to an argument, composed of equal parts narcissism and masochism, whereby jihadism and Muslim anger are really the West’s fault. The source of all this rage, you see, is to be found in recent Western “colonial blunders,” and certainly has nothing to with Islam. Colonialism has caused all sorts of bad issues — it’s difficult to see how France or Britain would have their big problems with Muslim immigrants without their former empires in the closet — but if it’s fair to point the finger at Western colonialism, it’s equally fair to cite all the centuries of examples when Muslim countries tried to overrun Europe at sword-point, killing, raping, and taking slaves all the way.

History matters and we must understand Muslim narratives about the past. This does not mean the West should agree with those, and we must not allow historical grievances, real or imagined, to be employed in defense of terrorism and murder. Above all, Muslims are people like all the others, and the average Muslim obsesses about such matters no more than the average American seethes about the Alamo. Muslims, on close inspection, turn out to have all the usual human frailties and complexes, not all of them conducive to peaceful coexistence.

The number of Muslims actually eager to wage jihad is small, but to deny that such sorts exist, and that they are motivated by a toxic brew of nihilism and aggression, in the name of Islam, is to perpetuate a dangerous lie. Moreover, opinion polling among Muslims, including in the West, quickly reveals that many of them strongly dislike lots of things about us, including Western sexual mores and Jews. There is nothing to be done about the issue of anti-Semitism at this point — the desire of some French Jews now to simply escape is sadly understandable — while Muslim discomfort about our post-modern ways is intractable unless we are willing to change who we are to appease relatively small, if vocal, numbers of newcomers. That matter will be left to voters, most of whom I doubt will be inclined to abandon their comfortable lifestyles to please angry foreigners on welfare who are responsible for a lot of street crime.

To sum up, the triumph of the WEIRD demographic in the West over the last half-century, so such post-moderns now dominate our scholarly, media and political elites, means that having a genuine discussion with Muslims appears impossible. While Christian Europe of the last century still had some common ground with believing Muslims, the gap today between our societal values and those of most Muslims is vast and cannot be overcome without huge changes, perhaps on both sides, that seem unlikely to happen without bloodshed.

To make matters worse, the only European country that is making an effort to appeal to normal people of faith in dangerous times is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Kremlin, speaking through its religious mouthpieces, has staked out a clear position that terrorism is unacceptable, but so is intentionally offending religious people with blasphemy. In this formulation, Russia — and Russia alone — offers a welcoming home to Christians and Muslims alike, while driving extremists of all sorts, whether they be jihadists or Communist cartoonists, out of the public square. Religion is not the problem, Russia makes clear, and its support for traditional religions here is consistent — extremism is.

WEIRDos in the West naturally find all this a tad comedic, and they were mightily surprised when Pope Francis (“One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith”) came alarmingly close to towing the Kremlin line about Charlie Hebdo. Yet again, post-moderns were distressed to discover that the Pope of Rome is actually a Catholic. You have to be part of the WEIRD demographic to find it “shocking” when traditional religion stands up against aggressive blasphemy.

Europe is in real danger here. The possibility of mass violence, caused by jihadist insurgents who are painted as “criminals” by the political and media elite, is serious and the gross decline in European military strength since the end of the Cold War does not provide assurance that such messiness could be brought under control quickly. In that case, radicalization will beget counter-radicalization and grave violence between Muslims and native Europeans should be expected. In that case, madmen like Anders Breivik will turn out to be trendsetters of an odious kind. Here the progressive need to find Islamophobia, which seems to concern many on the Left more than armed jihadism, does not promote stability.

As Europe descends into chaos and violence, a dystopian future wanted by no sane person, who will be there to stave of total collapse? Some are already planning for this, quietly, but most of Europe is not — how can governments plan for something they dare not even name? — and we can expect NATO to be unready for what may be coming. Having participated in many defense exercises with NATO, I can state confidently that the very last thing the U.S. military wants to get caught up in is European chaos. If the German military, far too small to contain mass violence, appeals to Stuttgart, where the U.S. European Command is headquartered, for assistance, somehow emails will be lost and calls will be “missed.” It’s impossible to imagine Obama committing American troops to putting down Muslim riots and worse in Europe.

However, Vladimir Putin will be waiting by the phone, eager to “help” Europe in its time of troubles. Not to mention that Putin comes from the Russian secret police tradition, where you create problems in order to solve them. Kremlin wags are eager to remind everyone how many times Holy Russia has selflessly saved the continent from Western European madness, in 1814 and in 1945 in particular, and suddenly the man in Moscow will appear as a savior, a warrior of faith himself — not at all like Europe and America’s weak-willed elites — who can appeal to moderates of all sorts, Christian and Muslim alike, to reject violence and extremism. This scenario is fanciful only if you are blind to what Putin wants, and how bad the situation in Europe actually is. When a drowning Europe needs Putin’s urgent assistance, our WEIRD demographic may find out that history did not turn out quite as they had been promised.

Why Ukraine Is Losing

Today brings more bad news from easternmost Ukraine, as Kyiv’s defenders are trying to hold on to Donetsk airport, where fighting has waxed and waned for months between Ukrainian troops and rebels, many of whom are actually Russian soldiers. Putin is pushing again around Donetsk and the airport’s brave defenders, termed Cyborgs by the Ukrainian public, may not be able to stand their ground much longer. As usual, they are dismally supplied and badly led. Never in the Russo-Ukrainian War, which started last spring, has Kyiv’s General Staff inspired much confidence, and their leadership is improving slowly, if at all, under the rigors of war.

The disorganization and corruption of too much of Ukraine’s military is no secret. Indeed, that the higher-ups are criminals who avoid battle is a near-universally held belief among the fighters who are doing the dying around Donetsk, who see senior officers, many of them hold-overs from the Yanukovych era, living in comfort far from the sound of the guns. The troops who have borne the brunt of the Russo-Ukrainian War to date are volunteers — there are more than fifty battalions of them, though some are in reality more company-sized — since the regular army is in such a lamentable state that many of its units cannot be sent into battle.

Why the Ukrainian military remains so unready after many months of promises from Kyiv that it is serious about resisting the Russians is an important question. We have heard many excuses proffered about how the military was neglected for two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, which is true but unhelpful now, when Ukraine urgently needs combat-ready forces. Courage is not lacking while battle skill clearly is.

Small wonder then that morale among Ukraine’s combat troops is low and dropping. The Azov Battalion, which is among the more proficient as well as politically radical of the volunteer units, makes no effort to hide its contempt for the politicos in Kyiv, promising to turn the guns around once the Russians are defeated. If Kyiv isn’t careful, it could easily find itself with a serious political problem on its hands, with angry volunteers feeling themselves to be defeated more by their own government than by the enemy. Here the experience of Germany’s Freikorps may offer worrisome lessons.

Moreover, the critique of many volunteers, that Kyiv is fundamentally not serious about the war, is difficult to refute. Even staunch defenders of the Ukrainian government concede that support for the combat forces is haphazard, at best, and the fighting troops would be starving and freezing without donations from private citizens eager to support “the boys.” Kyiv has just upped the draft age limit to twenty-seven, and has promised to soon add 50,000 conscripts to the hard-pressed forces.

But those troops will not be fit for frontline service for months, and if Putin decides to push harder in Ukraine’s Southeast, defenses would collapse quickly. Not to mention that calling up 50,000 draftees in a country of forty-five million citizens represents something very short of a general mobilization, and bespeaks a lack of understanding in Kyiv about the situation they actually face. The Poroshenko government is happy to raise awareness about Russian aggression, amidst unsubtle hints that they have been left in the lurch by NATO and the West, while bringing in foreign experts who are pleasing to the eye to try to repair the pathetic economy. However, Kyiv seems much less serious about actually defending the country from Putin’s aggression, substituting talk for action as a matter of policy. As for strategy on how to win the war, none can be detected.

A historical comparison illustrates how lame Poroshenko and his cronies actually are at defending Ukraine. When the First World War ended, Western Ukraine, centered on the recently Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia, attempted to defend ethnic Ukrainian land (then, as now, Western Ukraine was a hotbed of nationalism). In a few months, they created an army of 100,000 troops, and managed to get three-quarters of them into battle in more than a dozen brigades. Notwithstanding a grave lack of weapons and funds, and a critical shortage of trained officers, they acquitted themselves well in battle, losing only when overwhelmed by greater numbers of much better equipped Polish forces. They did this from nearly no industrial base and a population less than one-tenth of Ukraine’s today.

To cite a more recent example that likewise puts Kyiv in a poor light, in 1991 Croatia saw fully one-third of its territory seized in a few months by Serbian rebels who were backed by Belgrade. Croatia had to create a military almost from scratch, possessing few heavy weapons, while burdened with counterintelligence problems at least as bad as Ukraine’s today. Yet by the end of 1991, by executing a true mass mobilization, Zagreb fielded an army of 150,0000 in sixty brigades, and thereby managed to blunt Belgrade’s effort to subdue Croatia by force.

Croatia stopped the Yugoslav military’s putative effort to destroy their country through sheer grit, helped by Serbian incompetence. Indeed, the Yugoslav offensive to crush Croatia was far larger than the effort Putin has made in the Donbas to date, while the epic siege of Vukovar in late 1991, which ended in Pyrrhic victory for the Serbs, was more intense than what’s going on around Donetsk now.

By early 1992, the war calmed down, front lines became more or less static, and Croatia resolved to get back the one-third of its country that had been seized by Belgrade. Zagreb understood this was a long-term project that required the building of a proper military machine. Croatia’s president, Franjo Tudjman, had many flaws, but he was a military man by background and he understood the strategic imperative. For the next three years, Croatia methodically built a new army along NATO lines, with discreet Western aid, while laying the diplomatic basis for eventual victory in what they call the Homeland War.

When the time was right, in mid-1995, as the Greater Serbia project was falling apart and NATO had tired of the antics of Slobodan Milošević, Zagreb unleashed Operation STORM in early August, the largest military operation in Europe since 1945. With lightning speed, 130,000 Croatian troops struck and within three days most of the country was back under Zagreb’s control, demoralized Serbs having folded in the face of betrayal by Belgrade. Three years after STORM, thanks to smart diplomacy, Croatia recovered all the territory it lost in 1991, setting the country on a path to membership in NATO and the European Union.

Lessons abound here for Ukraine today. In the first place, possessing competent armed forces is the critical factor; no amount of diplomacy, Western sympathy, or avid hashtagging can compensate for military power when your country is at war. If Ukraine wants to defeat Russian aggression and eventually get back the territory it has lost, the first job is making the Ukrainian military functional and big enough to matter. That remains far off at present. Talk of joining NATO or the EU until Ukraine controls every inch of its territory is a dangerous fantasy that should not be encouraged by the West.

Petro Poroshenko is well meaning but no war leader. If he cannot run the war he should step down in favor of those who can. At a minimum, Kyiv must purge the General Staff of crooks, incompetents, and Russian sympathizers. Turning to foreigners, including Ukrainians in the diaspora who possess acumen in military and security matters, is being done for the economy, why not for the armed forces? The time to evict Russian rebels from Ukrainian soil is years off but that goal will never be achieved if Kyiv does not get serious about the war soon.

There has been much complaining from some Ukrainians that NATO isn’t doing enough and I share some of that frustration. That said, Ukraine must defend itself. NATO will never go to war over the Donbas and the sooner Kyiv accepts strategic reality the better. Like Croatia in the 1990’s, NATO will provide discreet assistance with supplies, logistics, training, and intelligence, but the heavy lifting will have to be done by Ukrainians. If there are not enough Ukrainians willing to bear that burden, they will not have their own state for long.

Kyiv’s trump card, which they play poorly, is that Vladimir Putin is desperately afraid of getting embroiled in a messy, full-scale war in Ukraine. While Russia can defeat Ukraine’s military with relative ease still, occupying large chunks of Ukraine, in the face of certain resistance, would be a political and humanitarian nightmare and the Kremlin knows this.

It’s fair to point out that Russia, a vast nuclear power, is a much more formidable foe than Serbia. Yet it’s likewise fair to note that Croatia, whose experience in the 1990’s offers a template for what Kyiv must do now, has one-tenth the population of Ukraine, and even less territory. The Russo-Ukrainian War is far from over. Someday, Russian power and Moscow’s willingness to use it will wane and Putin, like Milošević, may seek to cut off bumptious rebels whom he nurtured but later finds a nuisance. Then will be the time for Ukraine’s own Operation STORM, but not before, and unless Kyiv gets serious about military matters, that day will never come.